Cyclists rally in Burque. Can the city offer safety and support?
Rolled-up pant legs, durable water bottles hanging from backpacks and faint grease stains around the fingernails distinguish a group of cycling enthusiasts. These road warriors also often have a few scrapes to prove a commitment to cycling.
That devotion brings a sense of purpose and pride. “It is about being on two wheels,” says Julian Morathru, a member of the newly formed volunteer organization Biciaccion. “We face the same circumstances.”
In a March 27 news conference, Mayor Martin Chavez announced city government initiatives to make Albuquerque more bicycle-friendly. Enacting the plan might be an uphill battle. New Mexico ranked 12th nationally in cycling deaths per capita in 2006, according to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
A trip to Washington, D.C. for a national bike summit made BikeABQ Project Manager Angelina Lopez realize “there are brilliant ideas out there; we just need to capture them.” One idea that is gaining traction globally: public-use bicycles from designated racks that are ridden from one location to another.
Chavez' announcement included information about a bike-share program for Albuquerque called Q-Bikes. The proposal calls for a fleet of 500 with 25 stations at public buildings, recreational places and shopping areas, such as Tingley Beach and Old Town. Deborah James, spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office, confirmed the program will not use local tax money. Instead, private companies will submit bids on managing the automated kiosks and a contract will be awarded this summer.
James added that participation will be open to everyone and will not require a membership. “Hopefully, it will be a trendy thing to do,” says Lopez, who adds tourists will see Q-Bikes as a scenic, intimate way to travel around the city.
To make the Duke City more accommodating to bicycles, Chavez said police will be ticketing more drivers and cyclists who break laws pertaining to cyclists. Ben Savoca, vice president of BikeABQ, says emphasis on enforcement must be matched by advocating the rights of cyclists through advisory groups like the city-sponsored Greater Albuquerque Bicycle Advisory Committee (GABAC), along with public service announcements or publicity campaigns.
Lopez says bicycling is an important alternative that should be supported with more funding than the current 5 percent of the city’s transportation budget. Hundreds of miles of paths and lanes stretch through the Albuquerque area, most of which Lopez says could benefit from more visible markings. Savoca stresses that for cycling to be convenient, new engineering projects need to be completed in a timely way. This includes the $1.1 million construction of an underpass on Paseo del Norte that will complete the North Channel Trail and an I-40 multi-use bridge.
These elements support greener urban design and economic development for local businesses and neighborhoods, as opposed to producing large, spread-out commutes, says Morathru. “Cities have become car-sized, not human-sized,” he stresses.
Albuquerque has a great natural resource: a dry and warm climate most of the year. Cyclists tap in to all those perfect days. Still, Lopez emphasizes bicycles aren't just toys or the focus of a hobby. They are a valid option as a vehicle.
Lopez is hoping attention to cyclists will address society’s auto-dependence and create an awakening. She says she's empowered by contributing to a solution for congestion, pollution and health problems.
Albuquerque today is "bike-
As a community-driven organization celebrating its 10-year anniversary, BikeABQ has seen an increase in membership to 300. The group's goal is to build up to 1,000 in the next two years. The deaths of cyclists galvanized the city, Lopez says, and gathered the support of allies. March 3 was the date of the most recent fatality. Roy Sekreta was killed.
Being on a bike fosters the ability to connect with people, she adds, and is an instant topic of conversation. Biciaccion meets at the UNM Duck Pond each Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday at 5 p.m. These "no-drop" rides (meaning no one will be left behind) take different routes, with the length and speed determined by the skill level of the whole group.
“The spirit of the ride is that everyone makes it to the end,” Lopez says. The trips also help people get used to biking in traffic.
BikeABQ and Biciaccion emphasize the importance of responsible cyclists and considerate motorists. Both groups say education is the key to safety, so they recommend Bicycling 101 through the City of Albuquerque Parks and Recreation.
Savoca advises cyclists to think like a car to lessen any risk of injury: Ride in the same direction as traffic and stay in designated lanes, not on the sidewalk.
“The beauty of the bicycle is its simplicity,” says Morathru. He appreciates how the bicycle has withstood the test of time. As a mechanic and education coordinator for Biciaccion, Morathru offers free workshops every month to teach proper maintenance and help cyclists troubleshoot problems. Last month, the group worked on 30 bikes in one afternoon.
Morathru says to keep a bike running cherry, check tire pressure and keep parts lubricated to prevent damage that shortens the life of components. “Other than that, a good steel frame and light wheels will go as far as your legs will pedal.”
Morathru never got a driver’s license. He considers cycling freeing, not limiting.
He offers two key tips: Lights at night and helmets save lives. Morathru has a scar from 30 stitches running across the corner of his forehead as a reminder of an accident two years ago in a residential area.
Lopez says if you show people the potential of bikes, they will follow. She advises to get a bike that fits your needs and start small. “That first week or two, you are going to hurt. It is going to be hard,” she admits. “After 100 miles, it becomes natural.”